(This text was originally published at The International Museum of Women, July 2013)
Walking into the first room of the exhibition AxME at Tate Modern in London, one cannot remain indifferent when viewing a photo that immortalizes the figure of Freud sketching a model. With a closer and knowledgeable gaze, one can recognize the face of the model as the artist herself posing in an evident Orientalist style.
With this short introduction, we are carried into the world of Ellen Gallagher (b. 1965) who is an American artist that deals with sex, femininity, white male artists, couch trips, models, and the male gaze.
The huge exhibition is organized in eleven rooms and presents a number of works from different periods. The following rooms are adorned with her big paintings of women in which plasticine forms their hair and caricatures of big lips and bug-eyes create their features. They are signs; they are signifiers of Gallagher’s own visual vocabulary.
Ellen Gallagher has worked with diverse techniques and materials. Her work embraces painting, drawing, sculpture, collage and film — often combining multiple media in a single piece. She became known for her minimalist works, alluding also — with her caricature of lips, hair, and eyes — to the vision and representation of black people in the “others” imagery.
The sensibility of her re-appropriation of society’s imagery makes these works more than just aesthetically appealing. They acknowledge the anger and the sense of revenge against a label.
Curated by Juliet Bingham, the entire exhibition is a brilliant combination of politics, social classification, and identity.